Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Beyond Brain Drain and the Need to Get Serious About Talent Recruitment

My latest piece is online at Governing and is called “Beyond the ‘Brain Drain’: How Cities Really Need to Sell Themselves.” Though the “brain drain” paradigm is dominant lens through which cities pursue a talent strategy, it’s incomplete and leads to lax efforts to actually recruit people. I suggest actually sales, not just marketing, is critical, and highlight a couple examples – Vegas and Chicago – where we are seeing the start of a new recruiting approach. Here’s a sample:

The dominant talent paradigm in America today is “brain drain.” The idea is to prevent educated people, particularly the young who grew up or went to school in a particular place, from leaving.

This is a model with serious flaws. Notably it implies a sort of “wages fund” view of talent in which each community is endowed with a fixed reservoir of it and the goal is to prevent leakage. It downplays attraction, both “boomerangers” and true newcomers, and by implication suggests that there’s not much to recommend about a community if you didn’t grow up or go to school there. And it misses the point that in an ever more globalized, diverse, complex world, a place’s best interests are not well served by people who’ve never lived anywhere else.

Topics: Talent Attraction
Cities: Chicago, Las Vegas

7 Responses to “Beyond Brain Drain and the Need to Get Serious About Talent Recruitment”

  1. bettybarcode says:

    “…in an ever more globalized, diverse, complex world, a place’s best interests are not well served by people who’ve never lived anywhere else.”

    Around Buffalo, we’ve noticed that the people who badmouth us the worst are those who have never been here and, to your point, those who never left.

  2. Paul Lambie says:

    I agree that it’s as important or more important to attract newcomers and boomerangers as it is to keep homegrown college graduates from leaving. However, I’ve always figured that the City sells itself, or doesn’t. I can’t imagine a lot of people moving to Chicago because of a pitch by Rahm Emanuel.

    Have lots of young professionals moved to Seattle & Portland because of the City “selling” them on it, or did they move there because the cities are great places with high quality of life? My point is that if your city is doing the right things to make people happy to live there, the word will get around without some official sales campaign. I’d frankly be a little skeptical of an institutional effort to convince me that a city is a great place to live.

  3. Jon Seisa says:

    It’s not merely sales, but rather a marketing campaign coupled with the integral element of “quality of place” that is the primary and main driver of attracting innovative and creative talent to a city and gives the city its demonstrative identity difference, especially one having a metrocore featuring diverse amenities. So the first and vital step is to develop those versatile urban amenities that will enhance the unique and exclusive quality of place that is to be marketed.

  4. Paul, my question would be, if a good product sells itself, why do profit maximizing corporations spend so much money on sales and marketing?

  5. Alon Levy says:

    I forget where I read that the industries where companies spend the most on branding are the ones with the least product differentiation: Coke vs. Pepsi, Bud vs. Miller, airlines, latter-day PC vs. Mac.

  6. Paul Lambie says:

    Aaron, I’d say that people are a fair bit more impressionable about buying products than they are about the monumental decision about where to live.

    I wouldn’t say that sales and marketing can’t open people’s minds to places they haven’t heard about, but I’d hate to see cities waste a lot of money trying to sell themselves as great places to live while neglecting to do the actual things necessary to make that true. I think most potential movers are smart enough to figure out which cities they would enjoy living in without being convinced by a government marketing and sales campaign.

  7. Jon Seisa says:

    But successful cities do both to maintain the synergy of awareness and exposure: 1) strive to make their city a great place to live; and 2) market their city branding lifestyle as a novel and desirable place to live, because cities have lifestyle brand identity. People today are consumers on virtually every level, whether they know it or not, or need it or not, and they are persuaded by lifestyle options and choices. You don’t really need a cell phone, iphone, smart phone, ipad, Blackberry, ipod, or ATM card, but you have been convinced to part from your own money to attain these needless things. So marketing has successfully persuaded you and it has utterly nothing to do with intelligence, because even high I.Q. MENSA members buy into it. So we know it works to attract consumers and revenue. The same goes for astute cities.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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